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Learn from legal expert, Harrison Barnes
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The use of performance appraisals as a tool to improve performance management may be overrated or misunderstood. Hard research shows performance appraisals have negative effects on employee populations more often than having positive outcomes. As a result, employers and human resources departments are having a fresh look at this essential tool of human resources management. This article takes a look at three major myths of performance appraisal that lead to its misuse.
One of the major impediments in managing people and upping productivity lies inside the mindsets of managers and employers, which in turn is a product of the cultural and literary environment of the workplace. Managers and employers are logically worried about productivity, output, resources and etcetera, because they’ve got a business to run, and maintain work processes that help run the business meet its targets.
Even though the recession, downsizing, a poor job market, and declining demand for traditional legal services and billing continues to plague the industry, law firms recognize the need to retain their top talent, and therefore the need to address issues of work-life balance. The simple fact that it seems to be an employer’s market does not deceive law firm leaders that the true nature of things has not changed – it is still an employee’s market, as far as top talent is concerned, and the cost of replacing a key attorney or employee is difficult to measure.
A recent paper authored by Laura Empson of the Cass Business School, titled “Who’s in Charge? Exploring the Leadership Dynamics in Professional Service Firms,” took a refreshing look at some of the top law firms of the world and made some interesting observations.
High-potential employees, as opposed to high-performing employees, or highly-knowledgeable employees, are exceptionally important for talent management. While there is nothing that prevents a high potential employee from being a high performer or highly knowledgeable, quite often these three are not the same. A high performer or highly knowledgeable employee may not be ready for promotion due lack of competence required at the next level up. However, high-potential employees are those who are ready to be promoted, and therefore they need to be properly managed, developed and retained.
Training is the key to creating teams, organizations, and realizing business objectives. We are no more in a world where things are predictable – successful hires are random, unless it is being done by a leading expert in a field and in a narrow field. Generally, the HR people recruit across a broad range of job functions, and truly speaking, there are very few predictors of success of an employee. The only thing that a company might do is to train people to do their jobs and orient them to company culture and objectives.
The new employee-employer relationship that is firmly in place, more so post-recession, focuses on an immediacy of things and lacks permanency. The psychological contract, unsaid things, trust, and other values like loyalty had played a role in the employee-employer relationships of the past.
Like every other company owned asset or process, the HR department would also play a role ascribed to it – and that means it would respond to expectations and try to deliver according to what it perceives its role to be.
Client newsletters are an effective method of maintaining regular client contact. Their popularity with attorneys is growing, and they are proliferating because people everywhere demand specialized news, hence the tremendous amount of special-interest publications. Successful newsletters require equal attention to content, production, and distribution.
Affinity marketing is an approach to business development wherein an attorney or firm provides significant assistance to a single nonprofit organization. It helps attorneys focus their contribution efforts for maximum impact and can provide solid business development benefits.
The time required to perform marketing activities is usually greater than expected. Further, the completion of the marketing activity does not mean that marketing is successful, because results from the activity will take even longer to return. With few exceptions, most marketing activities take weeks to complete and may take months to produce results.
Because marketing is by definition an effort that takes time, frustration grows and interest often wanes among attorneys. Typical first steps undertaken by attorneys are exactly those that take long and bring few immediate results. There are several marketing activities that require little time and can bring immediate results. If appropriate initial actions are taken, internal support for other longer-range activities grows.
The most overlooked element in successful marketing programs is the evaluation of ongoing activities. This forms the basis for taking correct action and making future programs successful. But good evaluations are possible only when clear and quantifiable objectives have been set. There Is never one reason why a client hires an attorney, so all the factors affecting the decision must be considered.
External business development efforts depend heavily on the internal marketing program. Where an internal plan does not exist, the results of a marketing effort can at best be ineffective and at worse chaotic and embarrassing. Just as external programs frequently measure the audience to see if their needs are being met, so too does a good internal program. The internal component serves four purposes: to motivate, inform, coordinate, and educate. An internal program is a vital part of the external plan.
Many attorneys do not really understand what clients need. They may feel they understand their client's legal needs and are active in client trade and community groups. But personal relationship with each client may not progress as the attorney once had envisioned it might. For instance, attorneys can make a concerted effort to provide very detailed information with all their work so clients would understand the comprehensive nature of the services offered. For some clients this did not seem enough, while for others the detail was overwhelming. One client may actually become upset with a lengthy report, impatiently interrupting the attorney's explanation by demanding, "What's the bottom line?" Attorneys can have doubts that they will ever find a middle ground that satisfies all their clients. One solution is to learn the client's personality types and speak their individual "languages."
Attorney Jones did not understand why his practice was not developing more quickly. He had been in practice for seven years and had been an associate with a respected firm for three years prior to branching out on his own. His academic record was excellent; he graduated in the top third of his class at a well-known law school. Jones' professional record was also good. He, more often than not, provided the results his clients wanted. Some of Jones' clients had developed relationships with other attorneys and had discontinued their work with him. Jones felt that to some degree this would continue to happen and that this was not always within his ability to control. The number of potential clients referred to him had decreased over the past year. He was not sure what had caused this.
Personal information about clients eases the relationship-building process that is part of a successful law practice. Knowing the client well and making sure the client is aware of that knowledge adds to attorney-client trust.
A group of partners and associates at a law firm in a medium-sized city felt they needed to get a complete understanding of where the firm stood in the eyes of its target market (ideal clients), particularly in relation to other firms serving the same market. Because they wanted to gather the opinions of a number of people in a relatively short amount of time, the personal interviews that go with qualitative research were ruled out. The firm decided to undertake a quantitative research project.
If individual interviews cannot or will not be used by an attorney to gather client information, a group interview or "focus group" is an effective option. In the case of firms and even practice groups, the technique uses panels of clients to focus on broad concerns.
The most personal technique to learn client perceptions is conducting one-on-one qualitative interviews. The process can be time consuming, but it generates a wealth of valuable information and demonstrates concern for client sensitivities. All attorneys should do a client qualitative survey no less than once every 12 months, and more frequently is highly recommended, the relatively few clients that account for 60 to 80 percent of the revenue of the attorney should all be interviewed as a minimum.